The very idea of fusing classical music and ghosts is a combination I can get behind. Classical music and all the connective ties attached to it already evoke themes of romance, tortured artists, deep sorrow, old and beautiful gothic architecture and…ghosts? Well why not? It seems fitting and when one is telling a ghost story, class, grace and art certainly won’t hurt the authenticity or believability of the subject...
...Director Andrew Desmond has crafted a ghost story with most, if not all, of the previously noted qualities in his new film, The Sonata. As we’ve already seen many times in horror cinema, creating a compelling ghost story is not easy and as a big fan of this particular avenue of horror, I am one if its toughest critics. That being said, nothing pleases me more than to be impressed by a high caliber paranormal film.
This musically themed horror film begins by introducing us to musical prodigy, Rose (Freya Tingley), as she struggles to focus during a studio session playing the violin. While taking a much-needed break, she is approached by her agent and father figure, Charles (Simon Abkarian). Charles informs Rose that her father has passed away. Rather numb to the news, Rose only seems inconvenienced by the matter, hinting at a damaged or estranged relationship. Her father, known to the world as Richard Marlowe (Rutger Hauer), was a world renown classical musician. Rose is given his personal effects and the keys to his estate, which is hidden away in a mansion in the French Countryside. Needing to get away from her musical writer’s block and the stress of daily life, Rose decides to move into the Mansion for a while. However, the relaxing getaway turns into an accidental uncovering of her father’s checkered past and an unfinished sonata that may hold more power than just the impact of music.
Right from the start, The Sonata establishes itself as a class act. Within the first twenty minutes our main characters are introduced, and the general setup of the plot is laid out, creating genuine intrigue. Things begin on a good track. Then, I slowly realized that while everything looked great and our actors were performing very convincingly, nothing that transpired built up to much interest. As a horror film, it was failing to produce scares or even a sense of dread. There were a few moments that attempted to be eerie and I appreciated the complete absence of jump scares, but every attempt fell flat. Holding onto my patience and hope that the film would pick itself up, I finally succumbed to the realization that this was not a film of frights.
I always give credit when it’s due and there is certainly a large amount of credit to be paid. While the film fails on the whole as a horror film, it is proficient in terms of photography and acting. Part of the reason I had high hopes at the beginning was because the filmmaking was slick and professional looking. The coloring is appropriately muted but not boring and the shots are creatively constructed without calling self-indulgent attention to themselves. Cinematographer Janis Eglitis has done an exceptional job elevating the film. Looking at his previous work, such as Homo Novus (2018) it’s clear he has a flair for a lot of controlled, steady movement. There are a few shots in The Sonata where the camera steadily pans to a graceful stop that reveals an almost painting-like image, but it’s not distracting or as previously stated, self-indulgent.
The acting here is on point. The young and beautiful Freya Tingley is a very talented Australian actress, who does her absolute best to inhabit her role. There is a fragility to her character that is often cloaked by defensive armor to stay strong, but eventually that armor is beaten off and her frustrations and anguish end up on full display. The only problem is, her character isn’t given an opportunity to have an arc of any sort and I feel there is a bounty of unopened potential. The only character who does have a transformation is Charles, and while Simon Abkarian does perform well, his transformation to the ‘dark side’ is so abrupt that it doesn’t feel earned. The inclusion of the great Rutger Hauer is wasted and his minimal screen time makes it evident that he came in for half a day, got his paycheck, and was dismissed. It’s a shame, because he was a torrent of raw talent.
Music plays a smaller role than what I would have preferred for a film revolving around a sonata, but I will give composer Alexis Maingaud applause because he had a daunting task to write the music of a fictional acclaimed classical musician. The music is fantastic and adds credibility to the ghostly composer. I only wish it wasn’t implemented as brief as it is here. I feel that the music could have served a bigger purpose than just a plot thread. It’s mentioned several times that Marlowe gets his musical inspiration directly from a divine source and I kept itching to hear what that sounded like. I can imagine a manipulation of sound, music and noise to represent that transference.
The Sonata is not a bad film. It’s quite competent as it sets out to tell a story and it does so just fine. It’s also presented very professionally. The problem is, it absolutely fails to scare on any level which is the worst sin a film of this genre can commit. In terms of technical proficiency, it does deliver extremely well with its’ cinematography, sound and music and the actors do their absolute best with the material to elevate this story. All of the highly competent components of The Sonata act like sturdy pillars to support the film, but it’s simply not enough to make it an interesting, captivating or frightening experience.
The Sonata plays in Limited theaters/VOD on January 10th from Screen Media.
By Jeffrey W. Hollingsworth